Characterization and comparison of Clavibacter michiganensis subsp. nebraskensis strains recovered from epiphytic and symptomatic infections of maize in Iowa.
Clavibacter michiganensis subsp. nebraskensis (Cmn), the causal organism of Goss's wilt and leaf blight of maize, can be detected in the phyllosphere of its host prior to disease development. We compared the morphology and pathogenicity of 37 putative isolates of Cmn recovered from asymptomatic and symptomatic maize leaves. Thirty-three of the isolates produced mucoid orange colonies, irrespective of the source of isolation and all but four of these isolates were pathogenic on maize. The remaining 4 isolates recovered from asymptomatic leaves had large fluidal yellow colonies, and were non-pathogenic on maize. Isolates varied in their aggressiveness on a susceptible hybrid of maize but no significant differences in aggressiveness were detected between epiphytic isolates and those recovered from diseased maize tissues. The genomics of Cmn is poorly understood; therefore as a first step to determining what genes may play a role in virulence, we compared 33 putative virulence gene sequences from 6 pathogenic and a non-pathogenic isolate recovered from the phyllosphere. Sequence polymorphisms were detected in 5 genes, cellulase A, two endoglucanases, xylanase B and a pectate lyase but there was no relationship with pathogenicity. Further research is needed to determine what genes play a role in virulence of Cmn. Our data show however, that the virulence factors in Cmn likely differ from those reported for the closely related subspecies michiganensis and sepedonicus.